One is a lonely number
San Diego sees golden opportunity slip away in first inning
SAN DIEGO -- It was certainly a night of firsts for newcomer Michael Barrett, who not only got his first hit in a Padres uniform Friday but got to see first-hand the continuation of a distressing trend his teammates are already well versed on.
The one-run loss.
There's no intricate formula for such an alarming entity and nor is it an art form by any means. It is good pitching combined with lack of timely hitting. Really, it's that simple.
The Padres certainly had this routine down cold before their 2-1 setback to the Red Sox before a frenzied crowd of 44,405, though another close loss does not make it any easier to take by any means.
"In games like this, every pitch is critical," Padres manager Bud Black said. "When you get that opportunity, it really helps if you could capitalize on it. Our guys are used to this ... where every pitch is critical."
Too used to it, in fact.
On Friday, it was Boston pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka who, after a wobbly beginning, left the Padres (41-31) reeling with a diverse assortment of pitches, even though the Japanese import clearly didn't have his best stuff.
It didn't matter, though, as the Padres lost their 15th one-run game this season when they couldn't get enough baserunners on and when they did, couldn't chase them home with a timely hit as they dropped their third-consecutive game.
"We had a couple opportunities to take advantage of and we didn't," said Padres leadoff hitter Marcus Giles, who struck out three times. "We had bases loaded, nobody out and you like to bring in more than one run with the bases loaded and nobody out."
Yes, about that first inning.
Matsuzaka, returning to PETCO Park for the first time since helping Japan win the World Baseball Classic and where he was crowned MVP of the inaugural event in March 2006, wasn't exactly pounding the strike zone early in the game, though that was not a surprise.
The Japanese import came into Friday's game with a game log that included seven starts with three or more walks and one with five walks, which might largely explain why San Diego hitters were more than willing to let him labor so greatly in the first inning.
Matsuzaka started the inning by issuing a six-pitch walk to Giles. A six-pitch walk to Jose Cruz Jr. followed. Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego's best hitter, patiently watched as Matsuzaka misfired on his first three pitches before he too walked.
Bases loaded, no outs and clean-up hitter Mike Cameron coming to bat. But Matsuzaka, instead of caving in under the pressure of seemingly-imminent trouble, simply made his pitches. Really, it was like a switch went on. His command instantly was better and, so too, were the results.
"It's impressive anytime that a guy can throw over 100 pitches and still have his velocity. ... Like I said, we had our chances but didn't cash it in," Giles said. "He has good velocity and if he keeps it down around your knees like he was and the corners, it's going to be tough to hit."
Matsuzaka got Cameron to pop up to second baseman Dustin Pedroia for the first out of the inning. Even after Barrett singled sharply to left field to drive in what would be San Diego's only run, Matsuzaka didn't flinch. He caught Khalil Greene looking at a fastball on the corner for the first out and then ended the inning when he got Russell Branyan on a routine fly ball to right field.
The 32-pitch first inning certainly drove up Matsuzaka's pitch count, which was why he was only around for six innings. All told, Matsuzaka struck out nine, walked five but he allowed only five hits in his 126-pitch outing.
"I thought we put together some quality at-bats," Barrett said. "From there, he settled in and started throwing strikes."
That's not to say the Padres didn't have their chance, though.
With two outs in the third inning, Matsuzaka walked Cameron and allowed another single to Barrett, who was making his second start in as many days after being traded to San Diego on Wednesday. But Matsuzaka got Greene to fly out to center field to end the inning.
Two innings later, Matsuzaka allowed a one-out single to Jose Cruz and then later issued a walk to Cameron again. He then got Barrett on a soft liner that Pedroia snagged on the run to end the inning.
In his final inning, Matsuzaka again allowed two baserunners but escaped trouble when, with runners on the corners, Matsuzaka dialed-up a 97-mph fastball up in the strike zone to get Giles to end the inning.
"He's a veteran pitcher," Boston manager Terry Francona said of Matsuzaka. "It looked like he got a little reved up at the beginning then once he got through the first his fastball was very explosive."
San Diego starter Greg Maddux (6-4), of course, doesn't have the overpowering fastball that Matsuzaka possesses, though the future Hall of Famer still has enough movement on his pitches to cause trouble.
The Red Sox (47-25) didn't need much Friday and certainly didn't get much against the veteran right-hander. Consecutive run-scoring singles by Boston's Kevin Youkilis and Jason Varitek in the fourth inning were enough to spoil Maddux's night.
Even with Matsuzaka out of the game, the Padres couldn't get much going against relievers Javier Lopez, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima and closer Jonathan Papelbon, who got the final three outs for his 17th save.
Papelbon allowed a two-out single to Cruz before getting Gonzalez to chase a nasty slider down in the strike zone to end the game.
"It was two good teams in a pitchers' duel that goes beyond the starters," Black said. "We had a couple of guy on and in a game like that, it comes down to getting that timely hit and we didn't get it."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.